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Let's Pass the Mic to Young People

The International Conference on Family Planning ended last month, wrapping up a lively few days in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Thousands of delegates from over 120 countries came to discuss the latest research and findings on family planning, and to talk about what the future of family planning holds.While the conference focused on many aspects of family planning, one group in particular stood out: youth. This population makes up a growing majority of the world’s population, particularly in developing countries. Nearly 70% of Africa’s population is under the age of 30, and access to family planning is a right they want and deserve. 

It’s time to stop preaching to youth about what they need for their family planning efforts.

Young people have made it clear that their need for access to family planning services is not being met. Part of the problem is that old programs aren’t working for them. Now youth are speaking out about what type of family planning programs would work, and we need to listen.Youth participants at the conference developed a call to action that focused on their four main goals and solutions to family planning for youth. The goals focus specifically on family planning, but as Laura Hoemeke stated last month, it’s not necessarily about family planning—it’s about future planning.  We’ve been telling our children for years to do what makes them happy, to be whatever they want to be. And this translates to family planning messages as well. We need to make messages that aren’t just about implants or about how many years of protection an IUD can provide. Our message needs to be tied to other aspects of life, because young people are planning for their futures. Amy Tsui of the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health wrote a wonderful piece about a young woman who said the field of family planning is uplifting and full of life. What that young woman said is true. It’s why I love what I do, and why so many people dedicate their lives to working in this field. One of the reasons family planning is so full of life is the young people who comprise the movement. Coming into your reproductive years is a special and stressful time for anyone, and having the power to decide how you want those years to look is invigorating. As the conference in Ethiopia showed, there are thousands of young people around the world who are already taking matters into their own hands and eagerly spreading the message of family planning. Take Jillian Gedeon from Canada, who entered a contest to travel to Addis Ababa as a youth delegate:And collaborating with IntraHealth International, a group called the Beat Making Lab, which is committed to cultural exchange through music, traveled to Ethiopia over the summer to hold a two-week music lab with Ethiopian youth. The group gave a lively performance at the conference. Check out the results of their collaboration:Family planning is a field you enter because you’re passionate about it, and as youth around the world showed with their video contest entries, their call to action, and their beats—they are passionate about it.  So let’s give them the mic. It’s time to stop preaching to youth about what they need for their family planning efforts. Let’s help create a world where young people have access to the tools they need to make their own futures.